California Senate leader Kevin de León received a significant boost in his bid to defeat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday, winning the endorsement of one of the state’s most politically powerful labor unions.
The Service Employees International Union announced it was endorsing California’s Senate president pro tem because of his efforts to enact a $15 minimum wage, his work for immigrants in the U.S. illegally and on environmental justice issues.
“Kevin de León is a leader who speaks up for California values. His leadership on the most pressing challenges facing California stands in stark contrast with the dysfunctional political establishment in Washington, D.C.,” said David Huerta, an executive board member with the union’s California group, which has 700,000 members. “He’s stood up for us and our California values again and again, and now we are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder and endorse Kevin de León to be our next U.S. senator.”
Huerta’s statement was a slap at Feinstein, a venerable member of the establishment in Washington after spending a quarter-century in the U.S. Senate. De León has focused his candidacy on generational change and keeping a more aggressive posture against the policies of President Trump than Feinstein.
But De León still faces a steep uphill battle to defeat Feinstein, in part because of her enormous financial advantage over him. She started the year with nearly $10 million in the bank, while De León reported $360,000. He also badly trails Feinstein in all public polling.
“The last numbers anyone has seen in the Senate race show Kevin has a lot of ground to make up, both in terms of cash on hand and polling. But if he’s going to stay in the race and fight to the end, he’s going to be looking for every point he can put on the board, and the SEIU endorsement adds a few points,” said Darry Sragow, the publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book, which handicaps races in the state. He also managed Feinstein’s gubernatorial primary campaign in 1990.
“It’s a positive for him, but he still needs a huge amount of money,” Sragow said. “And to be more cynical ... I don’t know a lot of contributors who will want to take on a sitting U.S. senator who’s going to be casting votes all year long.”
The endorsement provides De León momentum going into a key moment in the U.S. Senate race — the state Democratic Party convention next weekend, when delegates will decide whether to endorse in the contest. The SEIU also announced Tuesday that it was backing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom in his gubernatorial bid.
Bill Carrick, Feinstein’s longtime political advisor, said the endorsement would not affect their plans.
“The reality is we intend to compete for votes from everybody and we hope we’re going to get the support of not only labor members but SEIU members,” Carrick said. “He’s obviously got relationships based upon his relationships in Sacramento that are helpful to him.”
The SEIU announcement follows an endorsement of De León by the California Nurses Assn., another important labor group in the state. But that move was less surprising — the nurses group has a history of bucking the establishment, including its vocal support of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
De León has been a champion of the nurses’ top legislative priority, a single-payer healthcare bill that passed the state Senate in 2016 but stalled in the Assembly because of concerns about costs.
The SEIU is more establishment-minded and gave Feinstein high ratings in most of its legislative scorecards in recent years. Its backing of De León is potent if he manages to make the race competitive because of the union’s size and its deep pockets. Its state council alone spent more than $14 million during the 2016 election, and that doesn’t include separate political spending by local chapters.
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